Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is building an impressive record of winning super-majority procedural votes given the Republicans’ repeated insistence that he produce 60 votes on most bills.
Still, Reid appears to be losing patience with Republican demands to vote on amendments that Democrats consider purely political, and he has moved in the past few weeks to step up efforts to prevent Republicans from offering amendments that he deems extraneous.
“Sen. Reid is going to continue to work with Republicans to move these bills forward but at some point in time, you’ve got to ask the question, Are Republicans serious about moving this country forward?’— said one senior Senate Democratic aide.
Republicans said nearly all the cloture motions this year derive from one main GOP demand: votes on their amendments.
“The reason for the cloture motions has not been stall and delay,— said Chief Deputy Minority Whip Richard Burr (R-N.C.). “It’s been an attempt to try to get amendments agreed to and a timeline, if in fact one can achieve that. It seems that the Majority Leader is not in the mood of even talking about an amendment until either you’ve had a cloture motion and you’ve proceeded or he’s lost a cloture motion to proceed.—
Despite Reid’s winning record, he did suffer what many consider an embarrassing defeat during last week’s vote on the Medicare doctor reimbursement fix, but Democrats said the loss was due primarily to interest groups’ inability to prod Republicans to support it.
Reid lost more Democrats on the doctor’s fix than any other vote this year — 12 Democrats and one Democratic-leaning Independent. He also failed to get even a bare majority for the vote, much less the 60 needed to beat back a filibuster.
But the doctor’s fix vote is only one of four losses out of 28 votes on motions to limit debate, or invoke cloture. In 2008, Reid filed cloture 47 times and lost 10.
At least three of Reid’s losses this year can be attributed in part to the absence of Senators on both sides of the aisle who supported the measure under consideration. But the doctor’s fix loss largely resulted from discontent within the Democratic ranks as well as unanimous Republican opposition. The $245 billion Medicare doctor’s bill caused controversy on both sides of the aisle because its price tag was not offset with spending cuts elsewhere.
“They were banking on Republican votes,— said Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Thune (S.D.). “I talked to some Democrats who said they were assuming they were going to get 10 of ours so they could let 10 of theirs go, and I don’t think they anticipated that the Republicans would be as unified in their opposition.—
Reid faces another cloture test on a bill to extend unemployment benefits on Tuesday, but Democratic aides said they expect he will prevail this time.
Republicans have more than a dozen amendments they would like to offer to the bill, including at least one involving the scandal-plagued community organizing group ACORN. The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now amendment and several other GOP amendments would likely be ruled out of order if cloture is invoked Tuesday, a second Democratic aide said.
The aide added that most of the amendments to the unemployment bill were “unrelated and dilatory.—
Thune said the unemployment bill is a good example of where Reid is trying to limit the rights of the minority.
“We just think there’s a reasonable number of amendments that’s fair, and [the unemployment bill] is a good example,— Thune said. “A lot of us have amendments we would like to get debated and voted on, and, you know, they want to cut it off and limit the exposure that their Members have to some of these votes. So you’ll move to invoke cloture.—
Democrats said Republicans are deliberately forcing Reid to file cloture in order to slow down the legislative agenda. Cloture motions require 30 hours of debate and, once cloture has been invoked, there is another 30 hours of debate on the underlying bill or motion.
“We shouldn’t be having these cloture votes,— one senior Senate Democratic aide said.
The aide added that Republicans sometimes block things — such as appropriations bills and a travel promotion measure — that they later take credit for in press releases in their home states.
“At the end of the day, if it gets done, it gets done without their help, but then they go home and brag about it,— the aide said.
Last year, Reid — who had a 51-vote majority — built a winning campaign theme in painting Republicans and the GOP-controlled White House as obstructionists. Though Reid has taken the occasional shot at GOP delays this year, the fact that there are now 60 members of the Democratic caucus has undercut his ability to criticize the minority for obstructing bills on the Senate floor.
“We only have 40 votes. They have 60. They should win every cloture vote,— Burr said.
Thune agreed and said Democrats have softened their rhetoric against Republicans largely by necessity and partially because they have been engrossed with their efforts to write a health care reform bill.
“I think they’re very preoccupied right now with the health care issue. You know, some of these other skirmishes that are occurring on the floor right now are kind of just a precursor to the big fight,— Thune said. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) “and the leadership have tried to pick and choose those battles wisely, and I think they’ve done a good job at it. I think we’re winning a few. We don’t win many but we win a few.—
Despite their modest wins, Republicans said they would continue their practice of requiring a 60-vote threshold for most bills either before they come to the floor or before they are passed.
However, it does not appear that the entire GOP Conference agrees with the tactic of forcing cloture that is being used by some in their rank and file. On most cloture votes, Reid picks up at least five Republicans, and on several, he has picked up more than 20.
“Most of the times he gets it, but this last week, I think, that the physician reimbursement issue was a good example of where I think [Reid] just pushed it too far because his guys wanted to offer amendments too,— Thune said. Thune acknowledged that Republicans have softened their stance somewhat when it comes to the annual appropriations bills because Reid has largely provided them with ample opportunity to offer amendments.
“I think they’ve been pretty reasonable in terms of amendments on [appropriations] bills,— Thune said.